Group D: Cameroon vs Zambia

19 Jan

The Indomitable Lions stalked into a hostile environment, the soil still fresh with Tunisian sweat, the audience hungry for blood and still fuelled by Tunisian hearts. Hundreds of loyal Carthage Eagles stayed behind after witnessing their team draw; praying for the Lions to be slain by a stray Chipolopolo before locking claws with Carthage Eagle talons come Wednesday. In a group that Cameroon were expected to cruise out of and into the quarter finals, they find themselves square at the bottom with no points. Eyes were fixed to the action, while brains started doing the maths. For Group D the “ifs” and “buts” can start rolling in thick and fast, with each team still in the running. But first Cameroon must play Zambia.

Cameroon came out trying to release Eto’o from the first whistle. A cup winner on 2 occasions, 2010 has so far been disappointing for the Inter Milan hitman. The Chipolopolo knew they were in a match and closed down well, but conceded fouls for their efforts to halt the Indomitable Lions.

On the eigth minute, the game began to simmer, Cameroon passed the ball around after a short Zambian attack. Geremi dwelt on the ball at the half way line. He tried to squeeze a pass through, it fell to Felix Katongo who left the makeshift right back in his wake, taking flight down the left wing. He belted in a powerful cross. Rigobert Song made contact. Kameni dove to prevent an own goal. The ball fell to Mulenga right in the middle of the goal with the simple task of proding home for his second goal of the tournament. 0 – 1

Cameroon had done it again. They had conceded without much of a fight. They pressed on. Zambia marshalled them well and driven by the first goal zoomed forward in search of a second. It seems Cameroon has been found wanting. The Indomitable Lions were being tamed by the Chipolopolo Boys.

Holding up play and trying everything to get the ball to Eto’o, Cameroon probed and probed, but Zambia defended expertly. The midfielders all tracked back to help the defenders and doubled up on the prowling lions. It was impossible for Cameroon to make any connection between midfield and attack. The Zambians were well prepared for this encounter and for all their possession, Cameroon were lacking any bite in the final third. Eto’o was forced to come short searching for the ball as he was constantly bullied off it and barely got a kick in the opening half hour.

Zambia sped down the wing time and time again taking on the back four. The stars of yesteryear where left chasing shadows and were lucky Chamaga was unable to profit from the great runs he made. To their credit, the elders made up in experience what they gave up in pace. Although threatened, they ushered the Zambians into corners, forced them into making errors and giving the ball away. There was a good shout for a Zambian penalty when Nkoulou made a rather clumsy challenge on Kalaba but got away scot free. With the Zambians still reeling from the appeal, the Lions pounced sending numbers forward and finally getting the ball to Eto’o. He cut in and let fly. The shot went wide.

As a testament of how well the Chipolopolo Boys shut Cameroon out, the Indomitable Lions got their first shot on target in the thirty-fifth minute when Makoun tried his luck, but Mweene saved comfortably. At the other end, Kalaba stepped up to take a free kick from a good 30 yards out and forced a full stretch save from Kameni. Chris Katongo was first to react. He stabbed at the ball, making sure he got it on target. It went straight to Kameni. He didn’t know much about it, but Kameni pulled off a great double save. The half ended with Cameroon controlling the ball but Zambia looking the more likely to score. They really should have been 2 – 0 up. Would Zambia pay the price?

At half time Idrissou joined Eto’o up front. The Zambians had been defending deep and preventing the lone striker from any profit. Idrissou would be another dimension to deal with, offering height and more power. The change paid off straight away. Eto’o was finding more space and seeing more of the ball. The Zambians were chasing the ball endlessly and managed fewer counters. When they did counter, Zambia ran hard at the heart of the Indomitable Lions defence, turning the defenders who were often lucky to win back possession.

A free kick. Geremi is lurking over it. After 2 of his free kicks rattling the woodwork in the last game he looks a good candidate to score. He plays a good ball in and it finds Rigobert Song who gets a great touch. The ball is in the back of the net. But the flag is raised. Offside.

The Zambians relaunch their attack. A free kick. Chris Katongo played a delightful ball to the near post. Mulenga is unmarked. He missed the ball! It should have been 3 – 0. The minutes must seem like hours to the Zambian defenders who deal with wave after wave of Lion pressure. They put in a good performance digging deep and forcing Cameroon to play long balls over the top. You get the feeling they couldn’t do this for much longer. There are still 25 minutes to play. The Indomitable Lions commit more men forward with all 10 Zambian outfield players getting behind the ball. Geremi starts to find his range and places the ball in great positions for Eto’o and Idrissou to run onto. But they have both gone quiet. Someone has to pick Geremi up or one of those passes will find its mark. Geremi looks ever more the source to conjure something up and manages to sting Mweene’s gloves with a long range effort. The Lions still cannot penetrate. The Zambians begin wasting the ball simply blasting it back towards Kameni without putting up much of a chase, only for Cameroon to come straight back.

Geremi kept the ball in play with a hopeful hoof. The ball went straight to Mweene… He seemed to dive right over it. 1 – 1

The Indomitable Lions in the ascendancy couldn’t believe their luck. They pressed on looking for a winner. Tchoyi fired a low ball in across the face of goal. Sunzu could only blast the ball straight at Eto’o. The Inter forward dispatched the ball low into the far corner.  The Zambians appealed for a handball. The ball did hit Eto’o’s hand but he couldn’t have prevented it. And the Chipolopolo couldn’t prevent his 17th Africa Cup of Nations goal. Two goals in 4 minutes. 2 – 1

It all looked downhill from there. Zambia had their backs against the wall.  They mounted a quick counter and Kameni brought Mulenga down in the box. There was an argument for a red card, but that would have been harsh. He got a yellow. Captain Chris Katongo stepped up. A well deserved captain’s goal and the hopes of rescuing a point. 2 – 2

With time running out the game was delicately in the balance. Who would hold their nerve? Step up Geremi. He hung a ball into the box and found Idrissou. 3 – 2

With barely any time on the clock Makoun threatened to make it 4 with a sweet strike, but Mweene clung on for dear life. This would have taken the gloss out of a fantastic Zambian display, and the result would not have matched the performance. A 5-goal thriller which, in the end, was a hard lesson learned through clichés abound:

“you’ve got to take your chances” and

“in the end class shone through”.

The Indomitable Lions are not the force they once were and will need a better performance against stronger opposition if they go through.

Man of the Match: Geremi again so I’m doing a new award-

Most Impressive Player: Captain Chris Katongo.

Goal of the Match: Geremi wasn’t being picked up and supplied the winning goal with yet another great pass. Idrissou with a good, strong, confident finish.

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